April 20, 2020 Subject:
Painting the Forth Bridge
Mehmed the Conqueror (1432-1481) and His Time
Almost 6 weeks it's taken to read and absorb this extraordinary book whose author (Franz Babinger, German) died in 1967 (drowned in Albania) before he could supply footnotes, now painstakingly assembled here, so part explaining the complex history of a complex book about Mehmed II who in 1453 at the age of 21 conquered Constantinople, the ancient city of Byzantium, the (Greek) centre of the Eastern Church which outlived the (Latin) Roman Empire by a thousand years.
Babinger does not shy away from the nefarious role European city states played in enabling Mehmed to maintain his grip on the Mediterranean and the Balkans nor does he omit the manifest of Europeans (gunmakers, fixers, chancers) in the employ of Mehmed whose unabashed collusion (and laissez allez attitudes to commerce) brought slavery and destruction to much of Europe's periphery. The 'free market' existed long before its name was coined.
It is only by understanding the rise of the Ottomans that you can begin to understand how and why eventually they fell (and how they fell). The fall of the Ottoman Empire was as much the collapse of a narrative as it was the collapse of a jaded administration. The Balkan Wars of the early decades of the 20th century and the various Turko-Russian wars of the late 19th century (not to mention Crimea) all find their origins here. My limited understanding of Lepanto found a new home here. Tanzimat, Gulhane, Berlin, Mudros, Sevres, Lausanne and the Balkan wars of the 1990s all feed off the fundamental events of 1453 (Fatih) and afterwards.
The time it took to read this book had less to do with the missing original footnotes and more to do with the need to constantly stop to reference what the author mentions, places, names, battles, wives, factions, practice, laws, and so on. Who were the Pontic Greeks? What's a Sanjak? What's Jyzia? Are Turks and Ottomans synonymous?
For its fluid prose alone, this book will have been worth the read.
Professor Inalcik is critical of Babinger's selection and/or omission of sources and while these certainly are important they are also relatively minor as the book does not sink or swim whether or how Mehmed's second Bulgarian or Black Sea campaign is treated comprehensively or not. Babinger's book may well profit from Inalcik's detailed remarks but they might be more readily received had he (Inalcik) acknowledged, anywhere in his lengthy article, the strengths, the achievement of Babinger's book. Wikipedia cites him as a defender from Babinger's view of Mehmed as 'bloodthirsty'.
What Babinger actually wrote to conclude his narrative (page 432) was that "In his lifetime, Mehmed was regarded as bloodthirsty not just by the Christian world but by a good part of his subjects."
Babinger relays Spandugino's estimate that Mehmed was responsible for 873,000 deaths (quite art from death by plague that accompanied his campaigns).